Wednesday, April 13, 2011
In case you haven't noticed (and I'm sure you have), I've been gone for pretty much the entire first quarter of 2011 and that's a long time in k-pop land. A LOT of things have happened and even with the short lul in releases a few weeks back, there's just so much stuff to catch up on! Believe me, it took a LOT of will power to control myself from opening up Blogger and typing up truckloads of reviews. But it has paid off, because I GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL! And I'm entering what is most probably the top Comparative Literature program in the country at the top university in the country - I know, I still can't believe it.
But anyway. My point is, I can't exactly write full length reviews on every single release that has come out since I went on hiatus - that's crazy. Or at least you can't expect me to get them done by this time! Gimme a break - I went from graduation, to graduates' ball, to choir camp (I've also formally "graduated" from the choir - even if I'm being asked to stick around in college) and I'm only getting the chance to sit down and contemplate on my life!
I keep on getting distracted - sorry, too many things racing through my mind right now. Writing this should take them all out, for a while at least.
I promised a "big comeback", I deliver a "big comeback"! Beware, this post is ginormous. It literally took me almost a month to put it together - from choosing the songs, to writing the reviews themselves, and to formatting the damn thing. Can you believe that this new layout doesn't support italics and bolds? It pissed me off big time lol.
Read on for more of my ramblings, and the post proper. Go go gooooo!
Originally I planned to come back with a rage rant about the "new generation" of k-pop fans and how some of them (NOT ALL OF THEM) piss me off beyond belief that would eventually lead to a new special, but then I thought coming back with anger after almost 3 months away isn't such a good idea.
So this first quarter report will basically give you everything that happened from January to March - the amazing, the good, the bad, the okay, and the horrific. All the fangirling, hatred and whatever else I do when I review songs, will be present - I promise you that my writing is just as good as it was before I went on hiatus. As if it was any good to start with LOL.
I've put the songs into 3 categories - stunning, okay, and blegh.
Stunning - These are the songs that have literally taken my breath away over the past three months - the songs that I'd play for weeks at a time, the songs that I'd listen to during late-night thesis writing marathons, and the songs that would bring me to tears. It's these songs that truly defined the first quarter of 2011 for me.
Okay - I may like certain parts of the song, but there's something holding me back from falling at it's feet. These are the types of songs I won't refuse to listen to, but won't really seek out every single day.
Blegh - In simple terms, they're the songs I don't really like, and the songs that aren't really any good to begin with.
Let's get right to it - I'm excited to say the least!
IU - "Someday"
From the "Dream High OST"
Gorgeous in every single tiny little way possible. It may not hit you over the head with elaborate orchestrations and whatnot, but the gorgeous melody is enough to make you melt. Throw in IU's now-mature, yet still smooth and young, voice and you have magic. The chorus sticks to your head, and you're left humming it for ages - but it's not annoying. Because it's a beautiful melody. The arrangement to match was spot-on - not too little, not too much, enough dynamics while still retaining the natural dynamics of IU's vocals.
According to iTunes, I've played this over a hundred times now - this was the song I was listening to during hell week #1. If you follow me on Twitter, that was the week in January when I had this super long novel analysis to submit, dozens of survey questionnaires to give out, and exams left and right. So technically this was the song that got me through that horrid, horrid week.
Seungri (BIG BANG) - "어쩌라고"
See, even in k-pop I'm the master of predicting post-album singles, or at least the songs they perform either with the lead single, or after the lead single. And I adored this before Seungri performed it anywhere, mind you. I haven't lost it - yay!
This is the right range for Seungri's voice - it's high enough that he doesn't sound like he's talking, but it's also low enough that he doesn't sound like a chipmunk. And this is one of the few occasions where I won't condemn autotune because one, it's tasteful, and two, when he goes up it's necessary so he doesn't sound strange.
The song itself is very YG, very Big Bang in 2011, but with that little hint of sophistication that they're pushing Seungri to have. Clearly, they're doing everything right. The melody's catchy, the verses are there, they're strong, but they don't overpower the hook, and the entire song builds up. That and strangely, the synths don't sound cheap for once. Hurrah? Yay!
JYJ - "Pierrot"
From "Music Essay: Their Rooms"
I always have a hard time writing about my favorite band, because one, I either get told off for "not being a fan" or being "too much of a fan", and two, it's extremely hard to write about songs I adore, from my favorite band, without spazzing about Jaejoong and his gorgeous voice every 2 seconds. But what the heck, I'll try anyway.
Who wrote "Pierrot"? JAEJOONG! To be honest with you when he and Yoochun were starting all this songwriting and stuff, I didn't think they'd become this good. I mean they're no Yoo Young Jin or Teddy, but considering that they're idols, or that they were originally marketed as idols, this is a major breakthrough. Although I do attribute their interest in songwriting to the Japanese influence. Either way, we're making progress, Korea!
The chorus is catchy, but with the melodic-ness that makes you want to melt into a puddle of goo. But what really did it for me were the verses, my god the verses, they fit everyone's vocals like a glove, and everything just takes off from there, to be honest.
Park Jung Min - "Not Alone"
From "Not Alone"
I like strings in pop songs. I like it when orchestras (or parts of it at least) are added to pop songs. So it's only natural that I like this, right? Because I do.
Basically the only thing I'm really following, and maybe dying for, on this song is that gorgeous string section throughout the song, and the percussion at the breakdown of the chorus right after the middle 8. There are times when the song gets a little cheap, like certain points at the chorus, mainly because of all the added pop elements, the actual string line, and sometimes the melody, but it doesn't always happen. I love the verses though, well apart from the 'stop stop stop'-ish parts, because you can really hear all the instruments but at the same time it sounds really full.
Like I said, that breakdown after the middle 8 is stunning. Like, if that's all I listen to for the next week I'd have no problem. It's like there's so much happening during that breakdown - strings all over the place, percussion, drum rolls and trumpets (I think), but sure sounds like one heck of a breakdown. And the segueway from that to the last chorus was brilliant.
To be honest with you, I said that parts of the chorus sound cheap, but then again this is a pop song - it's supposed to be catchy. So, mission accomplished. I guess.
MBLAQ - "Cry"
From "BLAQ Style"
My problem with this song is basically my problem with everything MBLAQ puts out, only this time the song itself is actually pretty good. The production, albeit not stunning or anything, is competent, the melody stunning, and the arrangement spot-on. The piano parts, the tambourine, which was a nice touch if I may say so, and those water bubble thingies really gave the song character. It's a strong song, with the right mix of intensity and calmness throughout the entire thing so you don't fall asleep at one point.
Point is, it's a gorgeous song as a whole. Maybe even stunning. My problem? I cannot stand their vocals. Like, they sound fine during the chorus, most likely because their vocals have already been processed and mixed and all, but the verses just piss me off.
The thing with MBLAQ is that they're trying way too hard to do something that doesn't have to be hard - and it shows. Always has, always will. It's mainly for that reason that I chose BEAST over them back when they debuted in 2009 - because they can never seem to get the fact that things aren't always hard.
There's a word in Filipino, or slang rather - "palumpalo". It comes from the word "palo", which literally means hit or slap or something to that effect, and the slang means that you really put your all into things, and come up with this epic masterpiece. I know that's what MBLAQ are trying to do - like how their "mentor" Rain does things - but they fail to understand that yes, you have to work hard, and yes, you really have to sell yourself, but not to the point where you're making life hard for yourself when it really shouldn't be.
There are talented people in MBLAQ, Joon isn't such a bad singer and GO could probably go head-on with some guys from ZE:A or Infinite and win, but they're pushing it too much, at all the wrong times. Yes, Rain worked hard and yes, he may not be the most amazing singer around, but things look so effortless for him - for MBLAQ they look contrived and robotic.
Piggy Dolls - "Trend"
From "Piggy Style"
First off, yes, they're not thin, but for heaven's sake need you rub it in their faces? So what if they don't have "s lines" or tiny waists - do you really have to insinuate that they're "piggy"? God. It just pisses me off, because they're talented and they're being treated differently, just because they don't look like everyone else. For an industry that's built around respect and whatnot, I find it appalling.
But on to the music. The verses are perfectly fine - those vocals just blow everything out of the water. I don't usually like big, scream-y voices, but I don't know, they're doing something right and it's turning out strong. I'm pissed that whoever produced this had the gall to autotune vocals like that - they don't need it, and I highly doubt they ever will.
Now, let's all take time to worship the middle 8 of this masterpiece. Perfection. When the keyboards lace with whatever beats those are - my mind is blown. But then some bastard decided it was a good idea to autotune almost everything after that. NO.
This is one of those songs that are okay verging on stunning. Wah.
G.NA - "Black & White"
From "Black & White"
The song has both bad points, and redeeming qualities, so they kinda cancel themselves out to be neither an amazing song, nor a horrid one. Which is kinda a letdown for me, because I really wanted G.NA to get prime material and Cube is one to not really do well on the first release but make up for it on the second. Oh well.
On one hand, the song itself is really cheesy/cheap. Don't deny it, because it's true - it's the type you'd hear blasting out at full volume when there's a restaurant opening along a busy road or something. Everything about it actually - from the instrumentation to the melody to the hook - lacks finesse. It is catchy though, I'll give her that.
The redeeming quality? G.NA's vocals have sophistication, and that's one of the reasons why I liked her at the beginning - she can sing, yes, and although sometimes her voice can get squeaky, it has grace and effortlessness. Which ultimately saves the song from further horror.
Secret - "Shy Boy"
From "Shy Boy"
If my memory serves me right, Secret started the whole "60's"/"Grease"/"American Bandstand" (emphasis on the "") themed song craze that spread over the past few months, with similar-sounding songs from Jewelry and Dal Shabet (although not as strong) among others. And to be honest with you they sold the entire package the best, in my opinion - so it was only right that they won those awards.
However, I did like that song on their teaser/the "intro" better. But I'm talking about "Shy Boy" so let's move on lol.
There are points in the song that they get too cute, and it does annoy me to a certain extent, mainly because you and I know they can do more than act cute to sell. The arrangement is.. how should I say.. pretty "authentic", but not "authentic" enough. I never really saw the point in trying to emulate the 60's all over again. I mean it was a glorious time for music, and I grew up listening to Motown, but if you're gonna try and do it, at least do it well. I'm not saying that Secret aren't talented because they are, I'm saying that even if the arrangement is decent and the melody catchy, there's a spark missing from everything - and it's that spark that makes such a big difference.
Jewelry - "Back It Up"
From "Back It Up"
For the record, I'd take "Back It Up" over "Supa Dupa Diva" any day.
"Back It Up" isn't amazing or stunning, but it's a strong song, I'll give them that. Here we go again with building more than half of the chorus with one English phrase, but unlike Teen Top, it works for them, and the song. The new girls are competent singers, and although I miss Jung Ah's gorgeous vocals, the song fits them all nicely - which is probably the most important thing at this point. It doesn't show any mad ranges or amazing vocals off, but it proves that they CAN sing.
I have a difficult time talking about songs like this mainly because even though I did grow up listening to 60's stuff and this sound is supposedly "60's inspired" or whatever, I don't know the terms. I do like the trumpet line throughout, if that's a trumpet at all - it's got character. I said that Secret's "Shy Boy" is Grease-ish with a hint of American Bandstand - this sounds more like something that would end up on Hairspary the movie or something. It's old-ish, but updated at the same time.
Teen Top - "Supa Luv"
This is one of those "blegh"-borderline-"okay" songs, because really, it's not that bad. OK maybe it is, but it has good points too! A few. I think.
First thing's first. I CANNOT, for the life of me, unhear "I GOT THAT SOUP LOVE". And what makes it worse is that that line is practically the entire chorus - THEY SAY IT FIVE TIMES DURING THE CHORUS FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE.
Which brings me to my first point - why do they have to say that damn line so many times? OK fine, you can argue that "Sorry Sorry" was just as bad, if not worse, but would you really want to prance around singing "I GOT THAT SOUP LOVE"? I think not.
Speaking of "Sorry Sorry", to be honest with you this is like a Teen Top-ified version of it. Which basically means it's got near decent but not decent vocals autotuned beyond belief, average production, and their vocals sound like all the other boybands of their "generation". The "trying to be husky but not really succeeding so they end up sounding like they have a sore throat" sound? Yup. And why does it seem like only one guy is singing majority of the song (still)?
It is catchy though, I'll give them that. And it has a melody, no matter how processed and distorted it may be - THE MELODY EXISTS. Ordinary people can't sing it though.
Big Bang - "Somebody To Love"
From "The 4th Mini Album"
My general observation on the Big Bang mini-album, though I really like the material, is that it doesn't sound like a Big Bang album anymore. To my ears, and to some of my friends' ears, it sounds like an album by GD, TOP, Daesung, Taeyang and Seungri - and not one by Big Bang. It's like YG has spent too much time promoting the five as solo artists and in the process they've lost that thing that makes them a group. Watching the performances, which are amazing, it's like I'm watching 5 YG artists coming together, and not 1 YG act. Whatever that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'll leave it to you.
Even so, I have got to say that "Somebody To Love" is amazing in every way possible. It's upbeat and extremely infectious, but without losing a melody, and of course Daesung's gorgeous vocals. When I heard the recording I loved it, but seeing them perform the thing live was just mind-blowing, to be honest. Everything's so sharp, so orchestrated, but it seems so natural for them - like there are no pretentions.
And that is why Big Bang deserve the success, in my opinion - because they are so good at what they do to the point where they make it look like child's play.
Gahee - "Come Back You Bad Person"
From "Come Back You Bad Person"
Gahee, oh Gahee. Apart from being Yoochun's infamous ex-girlfriend and BoA's ex-backup dancer, she's probably the very reason why After School are the competent group that they are. They have their moments, and they've had their fair share of amazing songs over the past few years, but to be honest with you there are some members who are useless in terms of music - Gahee, Jung Ah and maybe even Lizzy carry the band now in terms of vocals.
Pledis should hurry up and "graduate" some members already for heaven's sake - since their debut they've brought in 5 girls, and only graduated 1. Jooyeon and UEE should go. Seriously. If Jung Ah goes then she better get a solo career or I'm gonna have to cut a bitch. But let's save that for my vocal commentary. YES, you're not seeing double or anything - I'm resurrecting my vocal commentaries just in time for their comeback.
OK ANYWAY. This is becoming an AS rant and not a Gahee review. Like I said, Gahee carries After School, so it's only natural that she be a pro at this solo thing. And to a certain extent, she is. From what I've heard, and seen, she's like a slightly better Son Dambi, which figures since she was Dambi's "mentor" or whatever. But remember, Dambi isn't exactly the best singer in the world. (DON'T even bring up her "MR removed" videos or whatever - because those are for people who don't know how to listen) Gahee's better, but her live vocals just don't cut it, I'm afraid.
The song is very melodic, and it requires technique, to be honest. I mean it's gorgeous, and her vocals on the recording are pretty good, but she just doesn't have the technique. I'm wondering why Pledis chose this for her, considering that they've gotten their past few singles right. (Even if she can't sing, "Queen" fit Dambi pretty well.)
Actually, the chorus reminds me a lot of a more serious, more melodic version of "Queen". Judging by the fact that they were from the same composer/producer/whatever he calls himself, well, I think you get the point. It's a very serious song, actually - minor chords thrown around all over the place, these really dark, heavy, synths throughout, and this club-like loop. And I like it. A lot? Maybe a bit, but enough for it to be in the "okay" zone lol.
5 Dolls - "Lip Stains"
From "Lip Stain"
You know a month is low on new releases when I deem a song like this "okay". But to be honest with you, it's not THAT bad. Although it's one of those okay borderline bad songs.
It has a melody, for one, and you can actually hum it. It's not the best melody in the world, and it has a tendency to sound cheap (especially paired with that horrid choreography), but it's there, and it's perfectly "functional". The hook is rather cheap too, and the instrumentation is like you threw a few random percussion parts together and put some sprinkles on top.
However it kind of became a guilty pleasure for me last February, mainly because this was one of the few songs that came out that month and do you really expect me to still be listening to stuff from January majority of the time? I wanted to throw up hearing some of those songs because I'd already overplayed them lol. And don't start with "there's always Big Bang", because no matter how good the songs are, I can't listen to that for an entire month!
This is what I always say about Core Contents, they only know how to make 2 kinds of songs - cheap uptempos (most often autotuned beyond belief), or stunning ballads, which only a few of their acts can pull off. Yes, this applies to everyone under the agency.
That is all. For today. Can you believe I planned on putting everything from January to March on one post? I'm not. I didn't. PART 2 IS COMING THIS WEEKEND - it's the truckload of March releases all rolled into 1 post. Epic.
Believe me when I say I nearly died several times putting these 2 posts together.